Mar 17

From the Town Administrator's Desk - March 17, 2023

Posted on March 17, 2023 at 2:47 PM by Tiffany Marletta

General and Zoning Bylaw Amendments on Tap for the ATM
By Gregory T. Federspiel
March 17, 2023

At this year’s Annual Town Meeting, scheduled for Monday, April 3, 6:30PM, at the Memorial Elementary School,  nine of the twenty articles are proposing changes to accept a new local option provided by state law, adopt or change a general bylaw or amend our zoning regulations.

A general bylaw change to add a new revolving account is proposed in Article 10.  The Board of Health seeks to establish a revolving account to handle the expenses related to conducting flu or other vaccination clinics.   In the past it has been a bit of a guessing game as to how much money to appropriate for the clinics.  A better way is to set up a revolving account that allows the acceptance of reimbursements from insurance and other funds that from time to time become available for clinics and to pay the expenses for the clinics directly from these funds.  (Hence the revolving nature of the fund – moneys spent are from the funds collected.)  Currently the reimbursements the Town receives goes into the general fund.  We currently have a similar fund for the programming provided by the Parks and Recreation Department.  The Board of Health has the support of the Select Board and the Finance Committee for this new revolving fund.

Article 12 asks voters to adopt a local option law offered by the state that allows Town Hall to remain closed on Saturdays despite certain state deadlines that might fall on a Saturday.  For example, voter registration deadlines prior to a local election day typically fall on a Saturday and yet, when we have been open no one has come in. On-line registration has provided a convenient alternative making these Saturday hours unnecessary.  By approving Article 12 we do not have to waste Town resources to be open on these Saturdays.  

Years ago, voters accepted the state law that sets parking fines at $25.00.  Article 13 seeks to rescind the adoption of this state law and adopt an alternative state law that sets parking fines at $50.00.  The $25.00 fine has been in place for a long time and a refresh is in order.  At the higher rate motorist should be less inclined to ignore the parking limits in town resulting in more turn-over of parking spaces.  

Article 14 seeks approval of a local option provided by the state that requires new construction of multi-unit housing (4 or more units) as well as lodging and boarding houses, to install sprinkler systems.  The Fire Department advocates for adoption of this new provision to provide an added measure of protection for those who reside in such structures. Sprinkler systems can provide more time to evacuate a building that is on fire, saving lives.   The most economical time to install sprinkler systems is at the time of construction.

If Article 15 is approved, the Select Board will be authorized to pursue aggregating the purchasing of electricity for all residents and businesses in town.  Many communities have successfully pooled their purchasing power to save money on their electric bills as well as specify varying levels of “green” power options.  Anyone who does not want to participate can opt out.  National Grid remains our distribution company.   Authorizing the Select Board to pursue aggregation starts a public process of soliciting bids from energy providers and choosing a vendor who administers the program.  The state must approve any aggregation proposal.  

Article 16 seeks to establish provisions for allowing private water lines to be upgraded by the property owners and paid for through a betterment – that is, a special surcharge on one’s property tax.  We currently allow betterments for sewer lines, but water lines were not included at the time.  We do not have any requests at this time for water betterments but the idea is to be ready if such requests materialize.  

Lastly, the warrant contains three proposed zoning amendments aimed at improving our existing zoning regulations.  However, due to the time it took the state to approve the amendments that were made last fall which, in turn limited the time available to mesh new proposals with those recently approved, the PB feels that it is best to hold off on any proposed changes to the rules governing Accessory Dwelling Units and a possible new section on Senior Housing.  Thus, voters will be asked to pass over, take no action, on Articles 18 and 19.   Article 17 seeks to establish guidelines for Adult Entertainment establishments.  While these establishments must be allowed, we can restrict where they can be located (only in the Limited Commercial District to the north of Route 128) and regulate various aspects of how such establishments operate.  

Next week’s article will focus on budgets that voters will be asked to approve at the April 3 ATM.

Mar 10

From the Town Administrator's Desk - March 10, 2023

Posted on March 10, 2023 at 12:58 PM by Tiffany Marletta

March 10, 2023
Annual Town Meeting set for April 3
By Gregory T. Federspiel

It is Annual Town Meeting time!  Mark your calendars for the evening of April 3 where residents will gather at the Memorial School to consider some 20 articles this year.  The official warrant with the articles can be found on the Town’s web site starting the week of the March 13th.  

At the annual town meeting voters debate and approve the Town and School District operating and capital budgets along with various proposed initiatives and bylaw changes that are being presented.  For the upcoming meeting on April 3 there is a little bit of everything to consider – new local option laws, amendments to our general bylaws and proposed amendments to our zoning regulations.    

The Annual Report and the Finance Committee Report will be delivered to all households by the Scouts.   Look for your delivery by March 26.   Copies will also be available at Town Hall and on-line.  The Annual Report contains summaries of the work conducted by Town Departments and our numerous boards and committees during the 2022 calendar year. The Annual Report provides a good summary of the major activities that took place and provide insights into the myriad topics that are being addressed.  A significant amount of data about town operations is contained within the Report.

The Finance Committee Report provides an excellent overview of the Town’s financial condition and details the more pressing financial issues with which the Committee and the Select Board are dealing.  The report contains information on the current status of efforts by both the Town and the School District to manage the remaining unfunded portions of our retiree health insurance liabilities and pension liabilities (we are on track to retire these liabilities by the early to mid-2030’s.)  The full warrant is contained within the report listing each article and the recommendations by the Select Board and FinCom.  Be sure to bring your copy of the Annual Report and the Finance Committee report with you to the ATM at the Memorial School.

Aside from the traditional money articles for both the School and the Town, there are a handful of articles seeking to implement new local provisions.  One, Article 10, is a request from the Board of Health to create a new revolving fund for their vaccination clinics.  In the past we have made a guestimate of the number of flu shots we might administer in the proposed budget.  A better way is to set up a revolving account that allows the acceptance of reimbursements from insurance and other funds that from time to time become available for clinics and to pay the expenses for the clinics from these funds.   (Hence the revolving nature of the fund – moneys spent are from the funds collected.)  We currently have a similar fund for the programming provided by the Parks and Recreation Department.

If Article 12 is approved, Town Hall does not have to be open on a Saturday despite a state deadline falling on a weekend.  For example, voter registration deadlines prior to a local election day often fall on a Saturday and yet, when we have been open no one has come in. On-line registration has provided a convenient alternative.   

Article 13 asks voters to rescind current parking fines of $25 and to adopt another provision of state law that sets the parking fine at $50.  

Article 14 seeks approval of a local option provided by the state that requires new construction of multi-unit housing (4 or more units) as well as lodging and boarding houses to install sprinkler systems.  The Fire Department advocates for adoption of this new provision to provide an added measure of protection for those who reside in such structures.

If Article 15 is approved, the Select Board will be authorized to pursue aggregating the purchasing of electricity for all residents and businesses in town.  Many communities have successfully pooled their purchasing power to save money on their electric bills as well as specify varying levels of “green” power options.  Anyone who does not want to participate can opt out.  

Article 16 seeks to establish provisions for allowing private water lines to be upgraded by the property owners and paid for through a betterment – that is, a special surcharge on one’s property tax.  We currently allow betterments for sewer lines but water lines were not included at the time.  

In the coming weeks leading up to the Annual Town Meeting I will provide more details about the warrant, including the budget proposals and proposed zoning amendments that will come before voters on April 3.  

Mar 10

From the Town Administrator's Desk - March 3, 2023

Posted on March 10, 2023 at 12:54 PM by Tiffany Marletta

February 23, 2023
Setting the Record Straight on MBTA Zoning Decision Making
By Becky Jaques, Select Board Chair, Ron Mastrogiacomo, Planning Board Chair,  Betsy Ware, Interim Town Planner, and Gregory Federspiel, Town Administrator

 Recent resident letters to the Cricket and to the Town Hall have addressed what is commonly referred to as “MBTA Zoning”, created by Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 40A, Section 3A. While we appreciate hearing from citizens, we need to set the record straight on a number of inaccurate assertions. 

 First, no boards or town officials have come out in support of the state’s mandate to change the town’s zoning.  Furthermore, no municipal official has stated that this zoning initiative is “in the best interests of the town.”  The State has required cities and towns to submit an action plan to achieve compliance with the state mandate.   We, like nearly all municipalities effected, have submitted our action plan, but it is non-binding.  It gives us time to make a carefully considered decision.

Second, no zoning articles pertaining to this issue will be presented at the Spring 2023 Town Meeting.    As has been pointed out, there are many issues to consider, including concerns about flooding, infrastructure, and other issues.  Since there will be “no rush to judgement,” downtown MBTA zoning will not be a matter for consideration this spring.  However, we want to point out that the Planning Board plans to present specific proposals at Town Meeting to change the zoning bylaw.   These proposals are unrelated to MBTA zoning.

Third, in response to the dismissal of state grants as inconsequential, the numbers that were quoted underreport past grants and discount future possibilities.  None-the-less, there is agreement that infrastructure always needs work.  Before we decide to forego important state funding including support for municipal infrastructure and public housing units that are vital to seniors living in our community, we should at least determine what zoning changes would be needed to comply with the state mandate, how such changes might impact the Town and what the financial impact on the Town would be if the Town did not pursue the State’s requirement to put this zoning in place. It would be irresponsible not to conduct this analysis before making a decision.

The Town (Select Board, Planning Board, Town Administrator, Interim Town Planner, and others) is undertaking the following:

  • The Planning Board is assembling a Task Force to study the pros and cons of adoption of zoning to comply with the MBTA Zoning provisions.  The Task Force will consist of representatives of pertinent boards and commissions who will study the town’s options for either adoption or rejection of this zoning provision. As necessary, the Task Force may hire an engineering, planning and/or housing consultant to work with the GIS program, designated by the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development, to assist the Task Force in development of a data base upon which policy decisions are made.
  • The Task Force will study the financial ramifications on not being able to access certain grants should the Town not adopt the State’s MBTA zoning recommendations.
  • The Task Force will be examining existing housing developments for density and character and “fit” within our community.   Residents might be surprised that there are properties in town that already have a density exceeding the 15 units/acre required by the State.
  • There will be a series of public forums to discuss the pros and cons of the MBTA zoning and to examine the data as it is developed.  We encourage everyone’s attendance at these meetings to obtain as much public input as possible.
  • The Action Plan we submitted to the State included a significant section on the issue of coastal vulnerability and floodplain issues. In public informational sessions with the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), town representatives have reiterated their concerns that development near the train station would be impacted by the floodplain and the fact that the train station was constructed on filled tide lands.  Clearly any zoning change to allow residential development near the train station would have to consider soil conditions and potential flooding.  

To be clear, no town official (appointed or elected) wishes to burden existing infrastructure, compromise the character of the community, or neglect their fiduciary responsibilities to the residents of Manchester.  However, we also want to be clear that raising the specter of Rantoul Street in Beverly presents a false choice and a rush to judgment without understanding the ramifications of compliance and non-compliance would be a major mistake.   What we have proposed and will execute is a careful analysis of the downtown to determine what specific regulations would need to be revised to achieve compliance. If a determination is made that compliance with this zoning requirement is not in the Town’s interests, then the Town will consider other options to increase the diversity of our housing stock.

The MBTA zoning requirement has become a hot button topic.  Through a methodical, data driven process with ample opportunity for public discourse we can come to a decision that is right for Manchester.